Geometry of Span and Flight

Formal themes:
The evolution of digitally driven formal experiment has taken a turn away from its freewheeling origins in the first flush of digitally-derived formal freedom: folds, curves, blobs, tessellations, and aggregations are now increasingly being driven by a variety of performative goals. One of these goals is structural performance. The engineer architects of the late 1950s and the decade of the 1960s, including such figures as Eladio Dieste, Eduardo Torroja, Felix Candella, and Louis Kahn, together represent an array of structural experiments utilizing thin shell concrete as a basis for both spatial and structural form making.

These architects experimented with a range of geometries with a particular focus upon the hyperbolic paraboloid.  Such curvatures provided a number of advantages (susceptibility to modular construction and ease of description). In certain arrangements the forms in question also acted according to catenary or funicular logics.  With the availability now of physics based digital modelling engines we can entertain a renewed interest in such catenary and funicular forms.  The most prominent historical example of funicular experiments in architecture (in addition to the ubiquity of funicular structures in engineer based design of suspension bridges) is in the work of Antonio Gaudi and namely in his Barcelona cathedral the Sagrada Familia.

Finally, tessalation, or the discretization of surfaces is an important area of investigation.  Economic constraints are often what drivethis division of curved surfaces into flat components. This economy is rooted in the limits of manufacturing technologies that make the components of walls and surfaces (such as in the case of glass, or precast panels), or even of the form work used for cast-in-place concrete.  While such constraints on their own may be sufficient to make research into discretization important, the ability of discretization to reveal the properties of curvature (just as the contours lines do in a topographical map) is an independent and potentially self-sufficient reason for such interest.  The ornamental effect of discretization reveals geometrical properties of curvature and provides an epistemological entrée into the geometrical properties of curvature not only for the designer but in the perception of buildings.

Site and Program:
The site where these experiments in form will be carried out will be on the Toronto lakefront across from the downtown island airport.  The site enjoys the unusual spectacle of planes flying into and out of the heart of a major metropolitan downtown and on a lakefront which has been the subject of a long unfolding history of conversion from industrial usage to new public space uses and related intensification of housing.  The current lake front plan, done designed by West 8 includes a number of unique interventions, amongst which our site will be one.  A market building, which will formalize existing market uses, will be combined with other public space uses on this site.  The market building type has historically relied on special and often large span structures that would draw upon the formal strategies discussed above.  The special structural forms have also been associated the monumentality of public buildings and will lead the studio to a discussion of contemporary issues of public figuration and institutional form.